Technically Speaking: APIs



Every day, we see content and data that comes from one source re-purposed into another. An API (Application Programming Interface) is a method for web apps, mobile apps, and websites to communicate with each other. Open APIs use a simple request/response model: a request is sent to an application, that request gets evaluated, and then the server sends a response back to the original sender.

Perhaps most importantly, APIs help to create a seamless user experience. A popular example is Facebook Connect, where signing into Facebook means you’re already authenticated when you sign up on other websites using their API. In this way, APIs are crucial for promoting conversations, integration, and sharing. And though tech giants like eBay and Amazon were among the first to use them, today even brands (e.g. ESPN, AmEx) and many startups (e.g. foursquare, Foodspotting) develop their own.

Benefits of APIs

It’s the open architecture of APIs that allows for exponential growth in sharing and eCommerce. They can also take your company in a brand new direction. I like to describe how APIs power business using a very simplified value creation equation:

From a business perspective, APIs can serve as an open book to learn how a company would like you to use their platform. But one of the best things about APIs is that the community will often make use of data in useful, unexpected ways.

You can do it

You can use APIs without a developer – you just can’t be afraid of a little (or a lot) of coding. Consider trying a class at GA to get started. Once you’re ready to jump into APIs, just pick one (the robust, and popular Twitter API is not a bad place to start). Read the documentation, register, and get a key (your VIP, all-access pass). The more you know about APIs, the better you can gauge your needs and start making.

Related terms to know: API Key, Mashup, OAuth

Popular APIs to get started with: Flickr, foursquare, Google Maps, Twitter, YouTube

Extra credit: Attend a hackathon! They create strong developer communities around APIs.

Edited by Adam Delehanty.